Keys Homes
Sunday, December 30, 2012
Finding your place

By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen

Just about the time I think I know the ins and outs of Key West, another one-block-long lane surfaces on the map app. Watson Lane is one of those funky dead ends, just off the better known Watson Street, between Truman and Virginia.

"At one time, the entire block was probably a one-family enclave," said Rene LaPierre.

In 1981, LaPierre first visited Key West on a cruise ship, and in subsequent visits he found Watson Lane and the double row of little houses that were originally built for workers at the cigar factory formerly located at the corner of Truman and White streets.

LaPierre bought 1017 Watson Lane in 1983. It was initially a two-room cottage, which already had 1950-ish additions of kitchen, bath, sitting room and a carport. He rented it, and regularly visited the island with his wife Erma.

The couple decided to renovate and make it their home in 2002, "when we were ready to retire, but the project took longer than we expected," he said.

Finishing your place in the sun often takes as much time as finding those hidden lanes and back alleys. In this case, the architectural redesign, gutting and restructuring took two years to retain the historic two-room house, and replace the '50s addition with a new kitchen and bathroom addition.

The LaPierres worked closely with contractor Michael Kellogg and designer Sean Copping, but the finishing touches and interior decor became their focus, their passion.

Erma masterfully sums up the process of redesigning what is now their three-room, 1.5-bathroom cottage: Any lover of home décor is aware that it is not only the choice of color and furniture that bring style and livability to a small home, rather, it is in the basic design and use of space; in the placement of unique pieces and decorative accents with personal meaning to the owners that create a personal and comfortable home," she said.

"Our goal was to create the feel of a wrecker's home, which was so prevalent in the 19th and early 20th-century in Key West."

To this end, some oversized antique mahogany pieces are strategically placed in the little house. In fact, during the renovation process, Erma built a scale model of the cottage to determine what would go where: the 19th-century wall mirror in the living room, an antique-tester bed and bureau in the bedroom, of course, with the Chinese Coromandel screen fit snuggly behind the bed, which is draped with a French altar cloth.

Much of the furniture is family heirloom, but the big 1920s sailboat, an American-pond model that claims space behind the angled sleeper sofa in the living room, was purchased at a Key West antique show.

The couple's "love of wood and hand carving" is evident in the curves and spindles of their old mahogany furniture. But one piece, the bedroom's bureau is contemporary, custom-made to match the antique bed, once Rene discovered the company that originally made it was still in business.

"So I ordered a matching dresser," he said. "I didn't realize it would take eight years to complete--I had actually forgotten about it and was on my way to catch an airplane when I got the call."

The ornately carved bureau has found its rightful place in the master suite, just behind the five-paneled pleated-glass wall that curves from the hallway into the bedroom.

"Instead of using the typical glass bricks, we designed the panels of semi-opaque glass to provide privacy for the sleeping area, and still allow light to flow throughout the house," said Erma.

Light and carefully selected color feed from one room into the next. For instance, soft-yellow bamboo floors contrast with the dark mahogany furniture, and the choice of Pierre Frey floral fabric accents turquoise and canary yellow in bedspread and upholstered chairs.

The galley-kitchen counter tops are the same pear green as its barrel-vault ceiling, as are the cathedral ceilings in the living room and bedroom suite.

To transform the walls "into a show of light and shadow," Erma hand painted on matte-white walls, gloss-white images floor to ceiling; stripes in the living room, palm fronds and bamboo in the bedroom.

From the bedroom suite's sitting room the master bath is accessed, where a skylight and two awning windows flood light onto a large model of the ocean liner SS France, a memento of the couple's annual transatlantic crossings.

Lapis and gold ashtrays from the ship are a small part of the owners' glass collection of bowls and decanters and Baccarat stemware used for entertaining. When indoors, a collapsible mahogany table is opened in the living room to serve the purpose; when outdoors, a large round table and market umbrella are found on the brick patio, at the very edge of the hard-to-find Watson Lane.

Undeterred by "the casual nature of Key West," Erma said, "a white linen tablecloth sets the tone of the meal."

Barbara Bowers is a Key West writer and host of a radio talk show about owning and maintaining property in the Florida Keys. To suggest a home to be featured in the Keys Homes section, send an email to barbara@bbowers.com. Homes listed for sale may not be considered.

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